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Healthcare workers are the world’s new superheroes

Celebrating Frontline Workers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

_CARE / WORLD'S NEW SUPERHEROES

Crises reveal character. And arguably no other event in our lifetime has shined a brighter light on the unfailing heroism of frontline healthcare workers than the coronavirus pandemic. This once-in-a-century catastrophe has ground daily life to a standstill around the globe, sickening millions and resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands worldwide. But it’s also underscored the dedication, expertise, and humanity of doctors, nurses, and caregivers, in the process uniting and inspiring people and communities in innumerable and unforgettable ways.

The world has come together to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and healthcare workers are the soldiers on the frontline waging war against this invisible enemy. Across the U.S. and the world, they’ve put their own personal lives on hold to answer the call of duty, working 100+ hour weeks and risking their own health to save others.

For Jordana Kritzer, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in New York City, the volume of patients pouring into the ER with Covid-19 symptoms at the virus’s peak there was eye-opening.

“As emergency physicians, we’d read all the news coming out of China and Italy, so we knew the tidal wave was coming,” she said. “But ultimately you don’t know how it will feel to manage so many critically ill people at the same time until you’re in that situation.”

Andrea Agre, a registered nurse at Weiler Hospital in the Bronx, had been working in an office position until office staff was redeployed to manage the coronavirus pandemic. She spent weeks taking staff’s temperatures and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to her colleagues.

“At the height of the crisis, the ER was so busy you could barely pass through,” she recalls. “We had beds lined up in the hallways. It felt very overwhelming at times.”

healthcare workers are
the soldiers on
the frontline
waging war
against this
invisible enemy

Dr. Kritzer—who contracted a relatively mild case of Covid-19 in March and was able to return to work seven days later—has been moved by her colleagues’ unrelenting dedication. “I’m so impressed by all of the healthcare workers in our hospital who came back day after day, even after being sick,” she recalls. “Despite the risks and how difficult things were at times, they showed up. The morale was, ‘We’re a team—we’re going to talk to each other and handle this together the best we can.’ ”

It was in New York City—which has been hit harder by the pandemic than any other city on earth—that the unwavering professionalism and commitment of these heroes was perhaps best evidenced by their collective response. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked retired and inactive healthcare workers to come support the Big Apple at the height of the crisis there, nearly 100,000 of them answered the call, some flying across the country or driving hundreds of miles to lend an invaluable hand to a city under siege.

Indeed, no distance has proved too far to travel to offer aid to those most in need. In March, teams of epidemiologists, virologists, and other healthcare professionals from China, Russia, and Cuba arrived in Italy, the European nation most afflicted by the pandemic, armed with medical equipment and strategies for stopping the spread. In response, the Chinese flag was displayed on shipments of medical supplies brought by the Chinese delegation, along with the quote, “The friendship road knows no borders.”

Through the darkest days of the crisis, healthcare workers have also managed to find ways to support each other, from organizing drives for desperately needed PPE to creating supermarket swaps to cut down on grocery shopping trips amongst colleagues. In New England, medical students from Tufts University, the University of New England, and University of Southern Maine created an all-volunteer project called Maine COVID Sitters to help local healthcare workers with free childcare, pet sitting, and housekeeping. In South Carolina, the South Carolina Hospital Association deployed a “Healthcare Heroes Truck” that made stops at hospitals across the state in May, sharing messages of support submitted by residents via social media on the truck’s oversize LED screen.

Everyday citizens have channeled their gratitude into providing healthcare workers with one of the most universal symbols of love and appreciation: food. Organizations born of the pandemic—like Frontline Foods, which partnered with celebrity chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen—have used donations from the community to serve hundreds of thousands of meals to healthcare workers while supporting over 1,000 local restaurants impacted by shelter-in-place measures. Meanwhile, the Pizza vs. Pandemic initiative raised nearly $600,000 in donations to deliver some 25,000 pizzas from independent pizzerias to hospital staffs nationwide.

Grateful communities have pitched in in other ways too. Andrea Agre mentions local college students who made high-quality face shields using a 3-D printer for some of her colleagues, while her daughter’s Girl Scout troop crocheted surgical-mask extenders for local hospital staff.

“People brought everything—masks, coffee, cookies, lotions, socks,” recalls Dr. Kritzer. “It makes you feel that the community really cares and appreciates the hard work we’ve been doing.”

The most iconic example of the public’s heartfelt appreciation may be the #ClapBecauseWeCare movement. Launched in New York City in March, the premise is simple: at 7pm every evening, residents flock to their windows to applaud and cheer for those on the frontlines.

“The first day, the local fire company came to the hospital at 7pm honking their horns with the sirens on to hand out candy to all the staff,” says Agre. “We were giving candy to everyone for days. It was so sweet and awesome.”

“It lifts up healthcare workers, but even more than that, I think it lifts up and unites the community at home who may feel powerless to help,” says Dr. Kritzer. “Every night at seven o’clock, people come out with their pots and pans, wanting to do their part. Everyone is screaming their heads off not just for the doctors and the nurses, but for everyone working at the hospitals.”

The movement has since spread across oceans, to countries including Spain, Iraq, and New Zealand. Worldwide, it serves as a sign of global unity and perseverance in the face of a devastating threat—and a poignant thank-you to the tireless caregivers without whom the world would be powerless to defeat it. Our New Superheroes. 

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